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Chase Headley could be the answer to the Yankees offensive issues
Despite committing $197 million in salary to their 2014 roster, the Yankees are missing something on offense.
The Yankees are below average offensively at multiple spots in the order, notably designated hitter, where they rank 14th in the American League in OPS, beating the Mariners by just a single point, .601 to .600. Even a position of strength such as first base, however, is a weakness, with Mark Teixeira needing days off to avoid aggravating the wrist injury that caused him to miss most of the 2013 season.
But where can the Yankees shop? All but five teams in baseball are within at least five games of the second Wild Card spot heading into Wednesday night.
The Dodgers have an extra outfielder, but if Matt Kemp is unhappy playing a corner spot in Los Angeles, why would he be happier playing a corner in New York? Carl Crawford or Andre Ethier would only add to the Yankees glut of lefthanded hitting and Yasiel Puig isn’t going anywhere.
So how’s this for an outside-the-box idea: Chase Headley.
The Padres infielder is a perfect fit for the Yankees for many reasons:
- He’s versatile. Headley has experience at first and third base and in left field. The Yankees could regularly deploy him at third and shift Yangervis Solarte to second, making Brian Roberts a bench bat and Kelly Johnson (defensive liability, has a .571 OPS since April 24) expendable. On days when Teixeira needs a rest, Headley could play a capable first base, something the Yankees haven’t seen much of this season from Tex’s replacements. And when the Yankees want both Roberts and Solarte in the lineup, Headley could be shifted to designated hitter, where Alfonso Soriano is seriously scuffling (.558 OPS against righthanded pitchers).
- Headley is also a good defender, a rarity in the Yankees infield. He has one defensive run saved at third base this season and a 2.8 ultimate zone rating.
He’s a switch hitter, a trait the Yankees seriously value (see Teixeira, Carlos Beltran, Solarte and Roberts).
- He’s owed a little less than $7 million for the rest of this season and then is a free agent. That’s cash the Yankees could probably pick up and money the Padres would probably be keen to save. Headley is currently underperforming (we’ll get to that), but would be likely would be particularly motivated to play well on a contender in his walk year.
- He’s 30 years old, at the end of his prime period, but not yet an “old” player.
But now comes the rub: Headley is hitting .196 with a .279 on-base percentage and .325 slugging percentage.
So why would the Yankees want him?
Well, for one thing, his struggles likely make him even more available than he would be otherwise. Also, more importantly, he may be the victim of some bad luck.
Headley’s isolated power, which purely measures extra-base hits, is at .129. That’s down from a career .145, but it’s not a huge drop. Headley’s isolated power from 2009-2011 never topped .131 and yet he remained a productive player for the Padres.
His 8.2 percent walk rate is also a bit below his 10.3 percent career rate. But, again, it’s not incredibly surprising. In 2008 and 2010 his walk rate was 8.2 and 8.3 percent, respectively.
Headley’s 2010 season is actually an interesting comparison for his current season. He had an 8.3 percent walk rate and .111 isolated power and, combined with excellent defense, still posted 4.4 wins above replacement (according to Fangraphs.com).
So what’s the difference between that season and 2014, where Headley only has 0.4 WAR?
His batting average on balls in play.
Headley’s career BABIP is .330 and it’s never been under .319 during any full season of his career. But this year, he’s been incredibly unlucky with just a .235 BABIP. A 20.1 percent career line drive hitter, Headley is hitting liners 21.7 percent of the time in 2014. This means that Headley will either remain one of the unluckiest hitters in baseball for the next four months (unlikely) or be primed for a huge rebound (more likely) as his BABIP bounces back to around its career mark.
The Yankees should take advantage of that rebound and buy low on Headley while they still can.